May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Lee Lasher Takes Helm at Jewish Federation Of Northern New Jersey

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (Federation) is starting the new year under the guidance of its newly appointed president, Lee Lasher. Lasher’s personal journey towards Judaism and his commitment to community growth have inspired him to support the Jewish community here and in Israel by way of Jewish leadership roles. His core values align perfectly with the Federation’s mission, making him an ideal choice for the position.

Lasher grew up in Brooklyn with non-affiliated parents who didn’t recognize Jewish traditions or customs on any level. “As a young boy, I had never heard of Shabbat,” he said.

When it came time to send him to school his father was unimpressed with the public school system. A friend suggested Yeshiva of Flatbush, convincing him that Lasher would receive a quality private education and learn about his Jewish identity at the same time.

“I never met this so-called friend of my father’s,” said Lasher, “yet I consider him my guardian angel.”

His parents divorced when he was 7, and Lasher moved to Manhattan where he transferred to the Ramaz School. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, along with other leaders at Ramaz, had a profound impact on Lasher, who quickly became immersed in Torah study and developed a deep connection to Judaism. He returned home one day and told his father he wanted to be observant.

Lasher spent time at friends’ homes, delighting in the dynamic of Shabbat and other religious celebrations. As he neared the end of high school, mentors encouraged him to go to Israel for a year of Torah study at Beit Midrash L’Torah (BMT), a decision which is very common today but was less conventional when he was graduating. “Just 10 kids from my Ramaz class went to learn in Israel,” Lasher recalled.

BMT proved to be a highly rewarding experience where he developed lasting relationships with many of his rabbis and especially Rabbi Benny Eisner, z”l, who taught him to love Judaism and the land of Israel.

Lasher left BMT with a strong sense of Jewish identity and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal. To his disappointment, Jewish life on campus in the 1980s barely existed. As time passed it became too difficult to continue as a student there and sustain his religious lifestyle, so he transferred to Yeshiva University where he completed his undergraduate degree.

Lasher believes his unique background has prepared him to understand and connect with all types of people regardless of their upbringing or religious observance. After his parents divorced, his mother went on to marry an Italian man. “I had a Christmas tree at home while I was attending yeshiva,” he said. These extraordinary circumstances resonated with him and shaped him into who he is today.

Lasher has always felt a strong sense of gratitude towards the community that helped him succeed, and makes it a priority to pay it forward in any way possible.

Prior to assuming his new role at Federation, Lasher held leadership positions in organizations here and in Israel, including president, chairman of the board, and officer of Congregation Ahavath Torah; vice president and treasurer and officer of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey; board member and vice president of the Koby Mandell Foundation (KMF); co-founder of Unite4Unity; and board member of Keep Jerusalem.

As president of Federation, Lasher’s first order of business is to help the community recover from the impact of COVID-19. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the organization’s leadership, coupled with an overwhelming outpouring of support from generous donors, the Federation’s COVID-19 emergency relief campaign raised $500,000, surpassing its intended goal of $300,000.

The accomplishments of 2020 thus far have been outstanding, said Lasher. Federation was able to allocate resources that included $200,000 to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), provide meals for front-line workers at Holy Name Hospital, distribute 110,000 meals to isolated and hungry seniors and families in Northern New Jersey, and more than $100,000 to Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) to pay for two additional case workers, emergency assistance and restocking the food pantry.

Federation’s Kehillah Cooperative, an organizational initiative focused on group purchasing, was established 10 years ago for the purpose of saving local Jewish community funds. Through the efforts of Kehilla Cooperative, Jewish day schools have saved over $2 million over the last five years.

This year, as local schools planned for reopening, it became clear they would require PPE supplies, including temperature scanner stations. Kehilla Cooperative procured discount pricing for state-of-the-art scanners and was able to leverage bulk purchasing, allowing schools to focus on other urgent concerns.

As the umbrella Jewish organization in Bergen County, Federation represents the community in the broadest sense. Lasher hopes to focus on Jewish identity and community building in an effort to bring people together, a goal he believes will create a stronger community locally and globally.

“Lee is passionate about his Jewish beliefs and committed to the idea that Jewish community can and should be unifying. His insight and dedication make him the perfect next leader for Federation,” said Jason M. Shames, CEO, Federation.

Also on Lasher’s mind is the increasing concern surrounding anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Federation is committed to protecting the community, allocating $200,000 in 2020 to fight anti-Semitism and hiring a security director to make sure community houses of worship and schools are safe.

Federation is closely connected to law enforcement and advocates politically for the Jewish community so when there is a concern, government officials are informed.

As the central agency of the Jewish community, Federation doesn’t wait to be asked for help. Their unique ability to recognize a situation and respond rapidly whenever needed has positioned them to be the “eyes, ears and mouth” of our community, said Lasher.

Lasher feels empowered by the exceptional board with which he is privileged to work. The lay leadership comprises a group of people who span a range of levels of observance, yet when it comes to serving the community they are all on the same page: selfless, passionate and generous with time and money. The same goes for the executive leadership, he added.

Lasher hopes to lead Federation in transforming lives and advancing the community by creating a safe and fulfilling Jewish experience in Northern New Jersey, Israel and around the world wherever Jews live.

To learn more about Federation or to donate, please visit www.jfnnj.org.

By Andrea Nissel

 

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